Singles Have to Think Outside the Screen
Matchmakers are seeing higher demand for advice and coaching services now that drinks and dinner are on hold.
Before the coronavirus pandemic hit, Cedric DuBose of Houston was completing a nine-week online course called "Love Alchemy." - The workshop, intended to get him thinking about his relationship skills, was a prerequisite to hiring Amari Ice, a Washington-based matchmaker.
At 48, Mr. DuBose, who works in research and development for a pharmaceutical company, had grown weary of looking for love on his own. He considered online dating a bust. "The sites I’ve been on were all horrible," he said. "It was all people wanting hookups. And I’m not the hookup type." Mr. Ice, who was recommended by a friend, appealed because he presented himself as a love coach armed with practical advice.
The more constructive approach has become a way forward for many matchmakers, first in the age of internet dating and now in the age of Covid-19. Lisa Clampitt is a founder and president in Manhattan of the Matchmaking Institute, which holds conferences and provides training for industry professionals. She said about 80 percent of matchmakers now offer coaching services. Thirty years ago most concentrated on the kind of matchmaking that for centuries had been the province of wise village elders. "It’s a strong shift in the direction of coaching," Ms. Clampitt said.
As singles are stuck at home and social distancing makes traditional dating all but impossible, the coaching skills of matchmakers, now imparted online, are becoming more valuable.
"People are really clear at this point that investing in themselves is one of the best things to do with all the free time they have, so we’ve gotten an influx of new clients," Mr. Ice said. "They want help with online dating and romantic skill building, to be used now or later."
Dating hasn’t decreased because of the coronavirus, he added. "It has actually increased. But the method has shifted, logically, online."
For veterans of online dating, that is not necessarily welcome news. Virus or no, "people go online and find that half the profiles are fake and the other half are scammers," said Lisa Ronis, a matchmaking veteran and coach in New York and South Florida. "They’re swinging back to matchmakers because they need us to vet people."
Maria Avgitidis, a fourth-generation matchmaker in Manhattan who has set up more than 3,500 first dates and said she is responsible for about 200 marriages, ramped up the coaching part of her business, Agape Matchmaking, in 2018. Coaching clients, who pay $10,000 and up for a program called "Dating Refresh" get four months of help curating their online profiles and winnowing suitors, plus a makeover and photo shoot.
Since stay-at-home orders took hold, Ms. Avgitidis has increased her coaching services. "Coaching is where we’ve become quite innovative," she said. "People have questions on how to navigate dating during quarantine, and we’ve made ourselves available to answer those questions." This happens through a free weekly webinar called "Ask a Matchmaker Live." She is also hosting group coaching programs; $350 buys a five-session package.
Ms. Ronis, who has offered coaching throughout her two decades in the business and works mostly with women, is fielding batches of new inquiries. "People are lonelier than ever" since Covid-19, she said. "They’re longing for love and planning ahead." She charges $2,500 for five sessions that include lessons encompassing a combination of advice, common sense and tough love, she said; she expects to be inundated when social distancing eases.
Mr. Ice, who works exclusively with gay black men, charges on a sliding scale for the coaching package that includes the "Love Alchemy" workshop Mr. DuBose took. "It’s like when you go to the doctor for an injured leg," Mr. Ice said. "I can’t quote you a price until I see what the problem is and what’s required to solve it."
Mr. Ice’s clients are getting online help until the time is right for face-to-face work. Ms. Ronis froze her matchmaking clients’ contracts in mid-March, until they can date in person. Most of Ms. Avgitidis’s clients have chosen to freeze their contracts during the pandemic, though some are still going on phone and Zoom dates she sets up.
Janis Spindel, the founder of Serious Matchmaking, calls her business a "luxury" global matchmaking service. She is based in Manhattan and also arranges dates through Zoom and FaceTime. "Love is pandemic proof", said Ms. Spindel, who started her business 35 years ago and takes credit for nearly 4,000 marriages.
Ms. Spindel doesn’t see the need for coaching. Her clients, all men, mostly straight, consist of celebrities, athletes, financiers and captains of industry, she said. They pay $65,000 to $1.5 million to work with her or her daughter and business partner, Carly Spindel, for a year.
"They love it that women are really showing their personalities through Zoom, because they’re in comfortable clothes, in their home, and they can get a sense of their home and their personality through the Zoom", Carly Spindel said in an email.
Working out the kinks that may be sabotaging clients’ love lives has not been the concern of traditionalists like Baila Sebrow, either. Ms. Sebrow of Lawrence, N.Y., has been matchmaking and organizing singles events for the Orthodox Jewish community more than 30 years, in New York and around the world. By her account, she has facilitated more than 100 marriages. Most introductions are made for free.
"In the Orthodox world, that’s what people expect", she said. "It’s a mitzvah." Not that singles who find her on social media or through her column in the Five Towns Jewish Times newspaper, Dating Forum, should see visions of Yente. Matchmaking has taken on a secular flair in the community in recent years, she said. Still, instead of self-improvement exercises or love workshops, the tools of her trade remain intuition and perception.
Since mid-March, she has been busy setting up phone and Skype dates and hosting Zoom events for singles. "People very much want to date, because they don’t have much human interaction", she said. "They’re showing more interest now than previously."
"Nothing’s changed but the method of how they see each other", Ms. Sebrow added. "And hopefully that’s going to come to an end soon."
Dating Tips From the Experts
Ms. Avgitidis: Be intentional about your photo selections.
A great dating app profile should have at least four recent photos. These should include photos of just you looking into the camera smiling, along with at least one full-body photo and an activity shot, like hiking or walking your dog.
And, if you’re video dating:
- Dress up as if you were going on a date.
- Make sure you have at least two sources of light pointing at your face.
- Situate the camera above eye level. You can elevate your laptop camera with a few books, and if you’re using a phone or tablet, place it in a secure spot.
Mr. Ice: Make sure your dating profile is complete.
Your profile description is your best tool for attracting quality catches. Don’t leave it blank. It describes exactly what you’re looking for, so a blank or desolate profile communicates that you don’t want anything serious. Skilled, intentional love seekers are great at weeding out those who aren’t, and you’re likely to be weeded out if your profile is sparse.
Ms. Clampitt: Be open to making connections outside your city.
Now may be a good time to expand your location search. After all, it’s a lot easier to branch out since most connections are virtual. You might find someone whose key values and relationship goals match up better with yours. If you are based in New York City, say, maybe add New Jersey, Connecticut or even Washington, D.C. to your location options.
Ms. Ronis: Take your conversation to a personal level.
In the past, a brief phone call before an in-person meeting would have sufficed. But dating has changed during the pandemic, and now may be the time to really get to know someone on a more personal level during that first call after connecting. You can see how that person is handling today’s stresses and ask personal questions.
Ms. Sebrow: Make your online dates fun.
There are numerous online games that can be played together: word games, board games, card games, tick-tack-toe, question-and-answer games, even YouTube gaming. And there are apps that you can use to share screens. You might also consider taking virtual tours together or having a virtual cooking date, where you each eat the foods you prepared. You can take it up a notch with a romantic candlelit dinner.
Janis and Carly Spindel: Limit chatting on dating apps.
After one or two messages back and forth, switch to a phone call. Then move on to FaceTime or Zoom. Sustainable relationships are being built right now, so when you actually meet in person, the chemistry will kick in. Or not.